How To Enjoy Your Hobbies When The World Is On Fire, Part I

To tell you the truth, I haven’t had an answer for that one lately, but let’s see what I can do. I’m going to scan and write as I experience these things, and see where it takes me.

Oh hey, look, it’s 2017 Topps! Finally made it out to a store that had it, so I bought a hanger box (most base cards for your buck), and we’ll take it for a spin.

Upon pulling the cello pack out of the much-harder-to-open-than-I-remember hanger box (Did they switch to glue this year?), this was the first thing I saw. We’ll see how it turns out at the end of the pack.

The first new card of 2017! You know, last year, I liked the design way more before I saw it in person. This year, it underwhelmed when I saw pictures, but I think I like it better in person. At least on first impression! I would still like them to un-blur the crowds, though. I’m guessing someone sued Topps for being visible in a baseball card or something. But no, even with the amount of space the silly design takes away from the picture, this is an improvement over ’16 flagship, I think.

Baseball Reference killed the card back star!

Anyway…Arcia didn’t have a Twitter or Instagram handle at press time, so that’s some wasted space. Really, I see a lot of wasted space on the back, but it is colorful enough. I’ll also take that it’s legible and has a large card number on it. My eyes are going on me, and reading card backs can be a real chore sometimes.

Let’s look at some more cards…

Unfortunately, most of it is stealth advertising, but there’s a lot going on here. Ellsbury looks like he’s doing the crane technique from “The Karate Kid”, and it also looks like he’s got lightning comin’ out of both ends of ’em. Worth asking, since I don’t recognize the park: which spring training park is this? I don’t think it’s an MLB park.

These red Jays unis are whack. Good picture of Stro, though!

Y’all. Gaylord Perry’s supposed to be on “Then & Now” cards. Not Stephen Strasburg.

Sorry. I know that was a little melodramatic. Moving on…

Parallels! Parallels! Get your parallels, or they go in the “send to COMC” box!

Hey, Night Owl, look! (Yeah, it’s one of those ad cards. I should see how many reprints I have of ’56 Jackie, though.)

Goddamn it.

You’re gonna see his cards all over the place this year, with people saying about the same thing as I just did every time, but…goddamn it. Such a senseless waste.

OK, back to having fun and not spending as much time in the real world…

Whew. Got this out of the way.

And this.

 

Picked this kid up in fantasy late in the year. Came with good reviews from the minors, but he exceeded expectations, as I remember it. His team’s gonna be a mess this year, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.

…and we’re at the end of the pack. These are weird. I mean, I have a long, established love-hate relationship with 1987 Topps cards, which I’ve owned more of than any other cards except maybe 1988 Donruss. The homage to the design looks sharp, save for the gloss (that’s just weird). The picture of McGwire they used makes his head look 3 times bigger than his body, though, and that’s not a great look. I’m probably not collecting the whole run of these, where I might’ve fallen for it in years past, but I will probably peruse the checklist and see who’s in it.

So, I’m through the box! (I should probably mention that my exclusive Silver Slugger cards were Trout and Trumbo, but they weren’t really visually interesting enough to scan.) I’ll probably do with ’17 Topps what I’ve done with ’14 and ’16 (and ’12 Heritage), which is accept them in trades, maybe pick up a pack here and there when I’m bored. They’re better than I thought they’d be, but they’re still not ’11-’13 or ’15. I’ll checklist what I got and put it on my want list sometime this weekend (it’s also officially time to move ’16 to the back catalog now).

Not a ton of players I was hoping to get (no Sanchez, which is kind of in the Bryant “gotta pull it so I don’t have to pay a premium” category), but I got a Story, I got Stroman, I got that Strasburg insert, and as depressing as it is, I got the Fernandez card. I haven’t looked at the main checklist yet to see who’s in Series One, though. Yeah, I’ve been that far out of the loop. Still, it’s good even as “get away from the news” practice to spend time doing something I enjoy.

Onto the next thing I enjoy…comic books! Had a big stack waiting for me at my local shop, as I had bills to pay in January and hadn’t been able to pick up for a few weeks. So, I’ll read ’em, and let you know what I think now.

I’ve gone back and forth on Jeff Lemire’s Moon Knight a bit (this is the first of I think 3 Lemire books I have in tonight’s pile), but this is one of the good issues. If you’re not reading it yet, without giving away too much (I think they’re about 2 trades in on this run), Jeff’s exploring Marc Spector’s mental illness pretty deeply in the storylines. He’s using a lot of flashbacks, because that’s what Jeff Lemire does. He’s also used multiple artists along the run to visually differentiate Spector’s different personalities, which was hit-and-miss. He’s back to just Greg Smallwood on pencils for the current run, though, so it’s not as page-to-page jarring as it was for me. I’ll stick with it a while longer. As Moon Knight’s one of my favorite characters, it’s pretty hard to get me to bail on a book of his.

 I’ve really enjoyed the first 3 issues of Josie And The Pussycats, but #4, I dunno, maybe overreached? Could be that Marguerite Bennett finally took the references to “Scott doesn’t get it”-level (I got about 2/3 of them), could be that the story had too much going on and plot points that I thought would have a slow burn to ’em got rushed, but it all kinda came apart for me a little. One issue isn’t usually enough to tank a series (though a few have tried over the years), but this one was kinda rough.

Lemire book #2, and the one that I think has been his best for a while (he writes a LOT of books at the moment, but it feels like he saves the good shit for Descender). This issue was sorta chase-sceney, but still good.

It’s gonna seem like I’m grouchy about every book I’m reading (“decent, but…”, and “not quite as good as the last few” and “hit-and-miss” and such), but the Black Cat storyline they’ve been on for a few issues in Patsy Walker, A.K.A. HELLCAT! (“That’s me!”) was dragging on a bit. Thankfully, they did a really nice job of wrapping it up. Felt good to see a book that had me sorta on the fence for a few issues turn it around.

I have 5 more books to read, but I need a snack and a break from reading. I’ll do part II a little later. It’s been good so far, though, just focusing on one thing as I’m doing it.

I’m too tired to scan stuff, but let’s talk about comic books anyway.

As I’ve mentioned, I do read comics, mostly superhero comics, and at least for now (I’m admittedly gun-shy, because of all the reboots in superhero-land), I buy new ones weekly. Here’s a cross-section of some of the ongoing titles I’m reading these days:

The Astonishing Ant-Man: it’s probably the weakest of the books I’ll talk about here, and admittedly, the storyline could use a bit of a kick in the ass right now as it feels like it’s treading water a bit, but the premise, locale and supporting characters make this a fairly interesting book. If you’re a fan of B-list Marvel comic book characters, particularly villains from the 1970s and 1980s, I think you’ll enjoy this.

Astro City: 20 years or so in, I’m finally caught up, and Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Ross do some of the best world-building I’ve ever read. If by some chance you’re not already familiar, and you like pre-Crisis DC Comics superheroes, this is a book to invest your time in. Start at the beginning, if at all possible. It’s totally worth it.

Black Panther: a very deep read through just 2 issues, but it’s been pretty fantastic so far. Ta-Nehisi Coates is new to writing comics (though he’s a lifelong fan), but he brings nuance and great respect for both his readers and his subject matter to Black Panther. The best new comic of 2016.

Captain Canuck: I love this book so much. It manages to do justice to 40 years plus of backstory (albeit staggered backstory at times, because of the book’s somewhat irregular publication history), handles a difficult juggling act by being a smartly-written book and a lovably corny one in the same breath (territory usually only occupied by the best issues of that other Captain), and remains unabashedly Canadian. Highly recommended.

Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina: maybe the most beautifully illustrated comic on the market right now, a hell of a lot of fun to read, a great twist on an old favorite, and one of the best horror comics I’ve read in ages. Fans of 1970s DC horror books will adore this. It’s been on hiatus for some months now, but the next issue finally comes out on May 18th.

Clean Room: Gail Simone comes up with some profoundly fucked up shit when left to her own devices. I’ve only read a little of this, but I think I need to pace myself on it, because wow. Holy mother of crap, it ain’t right.

Descender: optioned for what will be a very expensive motion picture before the first issue even came out, and living up to that hype thus far, Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen have created an intriguing world full of characters I want to know a lot more about.

Moon Knight: just when I thought my beloved Moon Knight’s story couldn’t get any weirder, Jeff Lemire (yup, him again) has managed in just two issues to turn everything we know about the character completely sideways…maybe…we’re not sure yet. I’m definitely sticking around a while to find out, though.

Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat!: quirky and fun, with a character I’ve loved since I was a small child and her entire history being explored in a totally new way. If you like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (see below), you’ll probably enjoy this.

Saga: this one’s a little more complicated for me, and this might not sound like as much of an endorsement as the other books I’ve mentioned here, but stick with me. Some people seem to think this book is perfect, but I’m not one of them. I think there are times when, in the process of trying to realistically tell a story about imperfect, flawed beings, with a central focus on prejudice, the creators do seem to show their own asses on those fronts a bit. They’re rough moments when it does happen, but thus far, the rest of the story, and what its aim seems to be, does override *most* of the cringe-worthy dialogue, because yes, it is a pretty brilliant book, when it’s on. They’re telling what I feel is an important story, one that’s worth at least checking out to see how your mileage varies as compared to mine, and it is one of the most talked-about series of the past decade, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, yes, sometimes, they do kinda fuck up in the process of telling that story. Check it out and draw your own conclusions.

Silver Surfer: Dan Slott and Mike and Laura Allred have created a terrific story about relationships, wrapped around story about a former herald of Galactus and his new companion meeting up with all manner of truly weird characters. Tons of fun, and really touching at the same time.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: REALLY funny (I laugh out loud through entire issues, every month), refreshingly different, and actually pretty inspiring. It’s basically the opposite of The Dark Knight Returns, and I love it for that.

The Walking Dead: 13 years in (it’s damned rare that a writer sticks with a book of any kind, even one they own, for that long, and equally rare that they have the same artist for nearly the entirety of that run), and still light years ahead of the television show, which I kinda can’t stand. It’s the ugliness of human nature on full display, but it still keeps me guessing, I still care what happens to the characters (even the truly monstrous ones), and I still want to know more about them.

Vision: I can’t imagine Disney corporate is thrilled about this book, because it takes one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s new stars and…well…let’s just say it’s not what I’d call an action figure seller. I would be doing you an injustice if I told you more. Sadly, it’s only going to run 12 issues in its present form (we’ve at least been assured it will be a complete, self-contained story within those 12 issues), as writer Tom King is under exclusive contract to DC now, but it is well on its way to being a classic, just over halfway through that run.

Speaking of DC, if you’re wondering why I’ve mentioned almost nothing they publish (and none of their mainstream superhero books), it’s because they’ve made much more of a mess of their addiction to relaunches than Marvel have. (Even with “relaunch with #1s, then “hey, another set of #1s” in some cases only a few months later, Marvel did what I feel was a pretty solid job with Secret Wars and its aftermath, all things considered.) I am going to poke my head in to see how the latest iteration of “the new DC” looks, but from what I’ve seen of their plans for their entire line, I am not overly optimistic. It seems way, way too safe to me, but in more of a pandering way than a comfortable, familiar way. It feels like Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” album, which reeked of “We know we’ve been awful and destroyed your faith in what we do! Here’s something that seems like the old stuff, but doesn’t really have the heart of it!”. I really think the company needs new people in charge, from the top down. They’ve presided over at least 3 failed reboots (arguably more like 5+), and they’ve kinda broken the hearts of people who were lifelong fans not so much of the very specific characters who filled the roles of their flagship superheroes, but of the way their adventures used to make us feel. They claim their latest fiasco is an attempt to return to the best the company had to offer, but it’s been a long time (about a decade, when “52” finished) since they’ve given readers reason to trust them. DC’s superhero line feels like…1990s Image Comics used to, not in the good way, and we all got sick of that in a hurry. You’d think they’d remember that, with one of Image’s founders helping to run things, but apparently not. I hope they manage to pull a win out of their collective asses, but I’m not exactly hopeful.

Sorry. Got off on a bit of a tangent there. I’m just taking the decline of DC on an uber-nerd, uptight level of personal, admittedly, and the absence of the bulk of their books from this would’ve been a huge elephant in the room, had I not addressed it.

With that said, I do hope that “what I can’t recommend” didn’t detract from what I did recommend. Every single book I mentioned above is worthwhile and entertaining in the ways that I describe, even the ones I describe as not being perfect. Check them out if you haven’t, and in the comments, feel free to talk about what you’re reading (but please, do your best not to include spoilers, because even though I moderate comments here, there’s a bunch of stuff I haven’t read yet, and I’d like to get to enjoy it in real time, if at all possible).